No lower-income Washingtonian has yet received the state’s working families tax credit, but there are already proposals to expand the tax break.
The credit was originally passed by the Legislature way back in 2008 but languished in unfunded limbo for more than a decade while lawmakers spent sparse cash on other priorities. It finally found its way into the budget in 2021, when surprisingly strong state revenue and the giant influx of federal COVID relief money that we like to call Uncle Joe’s Pile of Cash made the budget writers exceptionally generous.
This week is actually the first time that qualifying state residents¹ can file for the credit, which will basically be a rebate on sales taxes paid in 2022. It’s worth as much as $1,200 for families with three or more children.
On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee heard three separate bills to make the credit more generous. The first, and most ambitious, comes from Rep. Drew Stokesbary, R-Auburn, who led the GOP end of the bipartisan push to get the credit funded two years ago. Stokesbary’s House Bill 1000 would double both the maximum amount of the credit and double the income threshold, bringing in another 900,000 people. As the bill number suggests, Stokesbary was first in line with this idea back in December.
The existing credit has friends on both sides of the aisle: Democrats like it because it mitigates a state tax structure that falls heavily on the poor; Republicans enjoy it because it puts taxpayers’ money back in their pockets instead of spending it on government.
Therein lies the problem with Stokesbary’s bill, which has no co-sponsors among the House’s Democratic majority. It would cost north of $800 million per year, money that the folks who run the Appropriations Committee surely have other plans for.
More likely to gain traction is Rep. My-Linh Thai’s House Bill 1075, which would expand eligibility for the credit to everyone over 18 who otherwise qualifies. The current credit is only available to people younger than 25 if they have children. The Department of Revenue figures there are about 200,000 folks in that young, childless, and broke category, who would qualify for as much as $300 per year. Thai, D-Bellevue, was the lead Democratic sponsor of the bill to fund the credit in 2020.
Bringing them in would cost around $70 million per year. Sen. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, has a companion bill.
Thai’s also pushing a narrower measure that would allow people who are married but filing separate tax returns² to qualify. House Bill 1477 would also allow people to seek the credit for past years they hadn’t previously applied for.
Easing life in the warehouse
Warehouses would have to ensure their production quotas work with employees’ bladders under a bipartisan bill aimed at balancing people’s well-being with the relentless demands of commerce.
Senate Bill 5348 from Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, would throw a big rulebook at warehouse distribution centers to protect workers from the frantic production pace of big-box retailers like Target, Kroger, and Amazon.³
On paper, the bill guarantees folks toiling in oceans of cardboard could catch a meal, a trip to the restroom, and even their breath while they ship you a toilet brush at 3 am. Employers would have to spell out their work quotas in writing upon hire, at least once a year, and no later than two work days before their enactment.
The bill makes it clear that warehouse bosses can’t fire or throw anyone under the bus for failing to make quota to preserve their health. Workers would also get an extra hour’s pay for each day an unaddressed violation remains on the books at the Department of Labor and Industries.
Under SB 5348, warehouse workers could request 90 days of work quotas from their employers to challenge a performance review, which would have to be granted in 21 days. A 3-year statute of limitations would be applied to complaints. Similar laws have come to fruition in California and New York.
This bill is the latest response to scandals plaguing warehouse work culture, from union-busting to excessive injuries. Amazon’s made more headlines than many other retailers in those arenas. The company’s plans to lay off some 18,000 workers—including human resources staff staff — have raised concerns that warehouse workers will have fewer avenues to air grievances with higher-ups.
The Senate Committee on Labor and Commerce got an earful from the business world on Tuesday. Bob Battles with the Association of Washington Business argued that existing federal labor laws already protect workers from the hazards SB 5348 described. He also argued supply chains would be further strained by encouraging more workplace drama.
SB 5348 has big names behind it, including committee chair Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines, and Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
Taking on ticket-price gouging
Snapping up courtside seats or a spot at that hot concert could get easier on your wallet under a proposal aimed at protecting consumers from price gouging.
The rise of Ticketmaster and other entertainment giants has led to tickets that carry steep service fees, or worse, sell in secondary markets for double or triple face value after they get sold to online bots run by professional brokers.
House Bill 1648 from Rep. Kristine Reeves, D-Federal Way, is the latest response to a fiasco on Ticketmaster last year that saw the site crash under a tidal wave of Taylor Swift fans searching for tickets to her upcoming tour. Millions of Swifties came away empty-handed.
The bill would cap ticket fees at 10% of their face value, ban digital delivery fees, and force sellers to disclose all fees upfront. The bill also preempts local ticket laws and punishes first-time violations with fines of up to $250 and $500 for following violations.
Ticketmaster has lived up to its name as the purveyor of millions of tickets and operator of venues like FivePoint Amphitheater in California. Its merger with Live Nation last year, the country’s largest concert promoter, gave it access to U2 and Jay-Z. Ticketmaster is now under an antitrust probe from lawmakers in The Other Washington, giving Senators ample excuses to quote Taylor Swift lyrics.
HB 1648 drew frowns from ticket sales titans testifying to the House Committee on Consumer Protection and Business on Tuesday. Live Nation and StubHub lobbyists advised lawmakers to promote more competition in the ticket sales industry, not price controls. Consumer groups told lawmakers that “reasonable fees” and “face value” needed clearer definitions in the bill in addition to policies for policing bot resellers.
Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times has an eyebrow-raising piece about a lobbyist who can no longer come to the statehouse because a member of the Legislature has a restraining order against him for stalking her in the aftermath of a romantic relationship gone very sour. The most telling detail: The lobbyist, who at one point counted the Alliance for Gun Responsibility among his clients, had 17 firearms in his home before police seized them. Per Brunner: “Most of the weapons were in a gun safe, though two Glock pistols were found on his refrigerator and bookshelf.”
Erica C. Barnett over at PubliCola has some interesting news about the musical-chairs thing going on in Seattle-area local government: Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is eyeing the King County Council seat that’s about to be vacated by Joe McDermott. Even though the two bodies meet just a few blocks apart, the County Council is a comparative oasis of tranquility compared to the City Council, whose members are frequently subjected to abuse ranging from entertaining heckling to legit death threats. Mosqueda was reelected handily in 2021, but County Council spots rarely change hands. McDermott won his West Seattle-centered seat in 2010.
1. Eligibility tracks the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
2. There a variety of tax reasons to do this. Most germane to this discussion are couples who have separated but not yet divorced.
3. Amazon was among the sponsors of the Observer’s Re-Wire Policy Conference in December.
This article originally appeared in the author’s political website The Washington Observer.